Aptly for a writer of the stature of Norman Mailer, it was a pioneering event - albeit one that mixed the brightest advances in digital technology with the more earth-bound elements of the bingo hall.

Yesterday's transatlantic conversation with the leading man of American letters, held at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, took place by live video link between the festival's main tent in the city's Charlotte Square, and the writer's modest front room in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Afterwards, fans of the writer had their books signed by a new technique called LongPen, with their order chosen by the host, Andrew O'Hagan, in bingo-hall style: reading their raffle tickets numbers from a plastic bag.

Mailer, despite his evident infirmity, which meant he could not be at the festival in person, was in pugnacious form throughout the interview - he admitted he isn't a fan of the technology: "a system I detest". The 84-year-old writer frankly said the video-interview system was more suited to a "young chimpanzee", and after one audience member asked an extended question about his opinions on Picasso, he simply intoned: "That was a very long speech."

It was a punchy response worthy of the writer of The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner's Song, who also admitted - to laughter - that he had thrown some real punches in his time, albeit ones that were "always well considered".

In the hour-long session, Mailer spoke eloquently about his personal faith (an equal struggle between God and Satan, in his own personal theology), his ruminations on fame, sex and violence, and his recent work, The Castle in the Forest, along with its subject matter, Hitler.

However, he reserved more verbal fisticuffs for two modern leaders, the former prime minister Tony Blair, and the current President of the US, George W Bush.

"I cannot pretend to understand Blair," he said, "I don't know how he could get himself into a war in Iraq that was so obviously stupid. I will never understand how he could get himself into that situation, and in a war between people who have been at odds for more than 800 years, the Sunni and the Shia. Because Blair is an intelligent man. Bush is not, he just thinks in slogans."

He said America's main problem was that it sees itself as a "Christian nation", but one with a subconscious angst because it is not as noble as a truly Christian nation should be. Mailer said: "America is always full of guilt, because it is not as good as it could be, so we have to have an enemy to justify that - we had the communists and now we have transferred that to terrorism. Terrorism and communism: neither was a real enemy to America."

He reserved more scorn for Andy Warhol, another expert on fame, who is the star of the Festival period's biggest art exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland.

"I detested his work," he said, "I personally thought it was signs of the downfall of civilisation, I thought it was trash. I am fed-up with him being treated as a serious artist, when what he painted was the intensifying void at the heart of human experience."

Through the video link, the audience could see Mailer, warmed by a zip-up body warmer sitting on a simple chair in his front room, with its green wallpaper, standard lamp, and patches of New England sunlight.

There were minor technical glitches in the event, which started 20 minutes late, but perhaps not as many as one could have expected from such a complicated arrangement. Mailer misheard a question about Satan as one about "the state", and his assistant, a redoubtably patient man called Duane, had to repeat questions to the writer often.

It was believed to be the first public transatlantic interview of its kind and the LongPen also device worked - it allows the author to "sign" books via computer technology, as well has having face-to-face conversations with audiences.

The writer used an electronic writing tablet, just like piece of paper, to sign his name, then pushed a "send" button. A pen inscribes the object, in ink, at the other end.

Mailer seemed to get the hang of the process after a few minutes, but after a couple of signatures muttered: "Is there any way we can speed this up?" Perhaps it was entirely appropriate that such a hi-tech event had its fair share of old-fashioned, high-quality cussedness.